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Sylvie Guillem in "Bye" | Photo Bill Cooper Sylvie Guillem in "Bye" | Photo Bill Cooper

REVIEW: Sylvie Guillem’s “6000 Miles Away” at Lincoln Center

Sylvie Guillem in "Bye" | Photo Bill Cooper

Sylvie Guillem in "Bye" | Photo Bill Cooper

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ylvie Guillem presents something of a conundrum for dance criticism. Typically, it’s possible to separate the dancer from the dance — to distinguish the merits of the choreography itself, from how the dancer executes it and brings it to life.

The 47-year-old Guillem has performed so many roles and styles over her long career that this would seem to be an easy task. And yet, watching her inhabit tailor-made works in “6000 Miles Away,” it was hard to imagine anyone else performing them — for she is one of those rare artists whose instrument alone expands the boundaries of what dance can express.

In the program recently staged by The Joyce at Lincoln Center, Sylvie’s instrument was in the hands of William Forsythe and Mats Ek, from whom the ballerina commissioned two original works to flank an excerpt from Jiří Kylián’s explosive “27’52”.”

For both Forsythe and Ek, classical ballet provides as much a foundation as a subject for artistic commentary. That is about where the similarities between the two choreographers end, however. Whereas Forsythe’s steely “Rearray” puts Guillem’s exceptional technique under a microscope, Ek gives it a back seat in “Bye” — a work that, best it can, portrays Sylvie as a normal human being.

“Rearray” unfolds in a series of vignettes, framed in on-and-off lighting that, like the choreography, bears little relation to David Morrow’s spacey, atonal music. Somehow, though, the strangeness of these elements suits the intentionally awkward “conversation” that Guillem and La Scala’s Massimo Murru appear to be having.

Their language is almost entirely classical in its vocabulary — arabesques, developpés, pirouettes and beaten jumps — as well as in its idioms, which include swanlike arms and spectacular balances that recall grand pas de deux from “The Sleeping Beauty” and “Don Quixote.”

Yet “Rearray” contains nothing of the romance of these ballets, thanks to the odd music, lighting and drab costumes; and its erratic pace implies unease in the dancers’ minds (however effortlessly their bodies beguile it).

The work thus serves to expose ballet’s mental and physical contortions, inevitably bringing to mind Forsythe’s seminal “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” which also featured Guillem in its 1987 premiere. The fact that “Rearray” was created almost a quarter century later suggests the new work is already dated, but Sylvie’s inimitable performance gives the impression that its central artist is ageless.

If “Rearray” examines balletic forms so closely that it makes them seem alien, Ek’s “Bye” takes a distance from them, allowing the art form to appear once again as familiar, charming and even deeply human.

Like Forsythe’s piece, Ek’s is also a conversation — but as a solo, it is one that Sylvie is having with herself. It is Sylvie the ballerina and Sylvie the woman, who — thanks to the aid of an interactive film screen — variously appear to be one person, two people or some combination thereof.

Set to a contemplative Beethoven piano sonata, “Bye” has all the ingredients to be overly sentimental. For a star such as Guillem, the interplay of projection and reality is almost too obvious a theme, and a dowdy, eccentric costume does little to disguise her as an ordinary woman.

The choreography, though more whimsical and less technical than Forsythe’s, still includes sky-high jumps, ear-grazing extensions and luxuriant displays of Sylvie’s crescent-moon feet. Even in a headstand with her legs in a frog splay, it is impossible not to notice her impeccable turnout.

All this perfection could make such pretensions of plainness intensely annoying, and yet the fact that Sylvie still manages to charm reveals the real reason for her stardom. She has the passion and personality to match her enormous talent — and Ek’s work communicates this with the same irony with which its name suggests that Sylvie won’t be saying “Bye” anytime soon.

Post by Meghan Feeks

Meghan is a New York-based writer with an extensive background and lifelong interest in dance. Having trained in classical ballet with leading teachers, academies and companies throughout the US, she is now a dance reviewer for DancePulp and EDGE New York, a dedicated supporter of dance artists and organizations, and a borderline-obsessive student of Argentine tango. She holds a BA from McGill University, where she studied philosophy and political science, and a master's in strategic communications from Columbia University.

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